'There's No Turning Back': My Interview With a Hunted American Jihadist | Spencer Ackerman
Omar Hammami, the most prominent American jihadi left alive, probably should be running. When Hammami came to Somalia for jihad in 2006, he never anticipated that al-Qaida’s local affiliate would pledge to kill its former propaganda asset. And last month, the U.S. government put a $5 million bounty on the head of the 28-year-old Alabama native. These could be the last moments of Hammami’s life.
But Hammami tells Danger Room in an extremely rare and exclusive interview that he’s staying put. From an undisclosed location in Somalia, he grows vegetables, helps his wives around the house, and trolls his one-time colleagues in al-Shebab on Twitter, his newfound passion. As @abumamerican, he’s tweeting his ongoing jihad in 140-character installments, and is happy to debate it with U.S. national security professionals. Uniquely among jihadis, Hammami shoots the breeze with the people whose job it is to study and even hunt people like him.
That’s caused a cognitive and emotional dissonance within U.S. counterterrorism circles. Several openly say they like the charismatic Hammami, who’s quick with a joke and a touch of irony. Their Twitter interactions with him have led to a worry about his well-being, and a dim hope that maybe, just maybe, they can convince Hammami to give up a path that seems to promise a violent and imminent end. “It’s just a process of talking about what it is he believes and trying to understand it,” says J.M. Berger, Hammami’s main interlocutor, “and seeing if there’s an escape hatch for him from this life.”
That natural, human affection for Hammami risks obscuring something basic: Hammami isn’t looking for an escape hatch. He’s broken with al-Shebab, not jihad. “I believe in attacking u.s. Interests everywhere,” he tells me, through Twitter’s direct message function, the only means through which he consented to a week-long running interview. “No 2nd thoughts and no turning back.” Sentiments like that make it likely that Hammami will be the next American killed in a U.S. drone strike. [continue]